Saturday, July 11, 2020

Cassian and Merton Part II: Dispensation Domini

Let's get back to the beginning of the conference [Chapter Two].  So then they ask this question:
"So then we asked this Blessed Daniel, why it was that as we sat in the cells we were sometimes filled with the utmost gladness of heart together with inexpressible delight and abundance of the holiest feelings so that I will not say speech but even feeling could not follow. See, that is the concupiscentias spiritus, this is what we all desire and this is what we assume, this is the way it ought to be:  this is it!  And Cassian would that say that as well.  "And pure prayers were readily breathed, and the mind being filled with spiritual fruits, praying to God even in sleep could feel that its petitions rose lightly and powerfully to God."  See, that's the way we all want to be.  "and again, why is it that for no reason we were suddenly filled with the utmost grief, and weighed down with unreasonable depression, so that we not only felt as if we ourselves were overcome with such feelings, but also our cell grew dreadful, reading palled upon us, aye and our very prayers were offered up unsteadily and vaguely, and almost as if we were intoxicated".  Do you recognize the symptoms?  "so that while we were groaning and endeavouring to restore ourselves to our former disposition, our mind was unable to do this, and the more earnestly it sought to fix again its gaze upon God, so was it the more vehemently carried away to wandering thoughts by shifting aberrations and so utterly deprived of all spiritual fruits, as not to be capable of being roused from this deadly slumber even by the desire of the kingdom of heaven, or by the fear of hell".  So, in other words, they had their troubles.

So, there's the problem.  Well, now, the way Cassian treats this, or the way Abbot Daniel treats it, he tells them first the causes of this, the immediate causes, what promotes this sort of thing, and, then, by showing what this is for, he leads into this thing that we were just talking about, this concept of a balance, of a purity of heart, of a freedom, an enlightened freedom that stands in between these two things [carnal desires and spiritual desires].  The thing that he says, the thing that he makes clear, is that it is through suffering these things, through this question of being pulled this way and that you learn, by the grace of God, that you learn to maintain the balance in the middle.  So, therefore, what he is saying is that the purpose of trial is to purify our hearts and bring us to this balanced and enlightened condition.  I think this is very practical.

Then he goes into the three causes, these are these immediate causes, and one of them is negligence.  Obviously if my mind is slack I am going to be pulled in all directions.  Another is impunatio diaboli, an attack, . . . he pushes you in all directions.  Then, finally, dispensatio Domini, . . .the way God disposes, the way God provides.  Which of these is the most important?  The third one, so that's the one Cassian is going to study.  So the next time you find yourself dragged in all directions by concupiscentias carnes et spiritus  and so forth, realize that this is something that is part of God's plan for your purification.  That's what we were saying yesterday,  you have to take a constructive view of this, you have to work with this.  So God causes us to be tried, or God allows us to be tried.  This is a very good thing and we should be glad that God allows us to be tried because it has a very good purpose.  He causes, as they say, desolation in the spiritual life.  Everybody seems to recognize this phenomenon, everybody knows exactly what we are talking about. 
(This is from Conference IV of Saint John Cassian, Chapters 2 through 3)
It really is great to sit in one's cell and bliss out.  Been there, done that, but, then, all dries up.  Every time.  I like what Cassian says at the end of Chapter 4:  "For men are generally more careless about keeping whatever they think can be easily replaced."  I never thought I was careless yet it is a helpful way of looking at it because when the bliss comes I forget the source and that it is a gift.

Yes, the consolation of bliss once the spiritual journey is underway is rare.  Instead, we get "trials", day after day after day.  These trials "purify us" by helping us build up our "balance muscles".  Our temptations are to look for consolation rather than do the work of learning to balance our desires.

I think the path is through the Cross, the path of trials, because then as I follow that path I am purified.  I don't attempt to appease my appetite for spiritual fervor, I practice the charismatic and the contemplative in an integrated way because all the time that I am on that path I am suffering redemptively rather than straying into bondage.  JPII talks about "freeing freedom" and I think this is it, to stay on the path of the Cross, regardless of the source of the trials, as it frees me ("redeems me") to maintain this balance.  That's really what the covenant promises (and vows) help us to do, to practice suffering redemptively through voluntary trials.  We can then more and more integrate the apparent opposites and avoid the temptations to the fervor that tempts us to allow ourselves to get dragged off the path, and, thus we are ever more free to love.

No comments: